John Scott: The Patriots are no longer worried about Gaffney who was at best a fill-in receiver fro them. Though their decision to replace him with Joey Galloway has been a complete mistake, Gaffney was offered better money to join the Broncos than the Patriots wanted to pay him. Until New England gets better production from their other WR's this will still be a questionable move.
As for McDaniels, there's no doubt the Patriots miss some of his offensive insights. As far as Bill O'Brien has come within the system, his ability to adapt to what the defense is doing on the fly remains a concern. Gameplans are fine, but you need to be able to call a good game as an OC, and McDaniels had a much better bond with Brady than O'Brien has been able to establish. It is not surprising to see McDaniels successful elsewhere, just surprising to see it happen this quickly.
2) It looks like RB Fred Taylor may be out for Sunday, how does this affect the Patriot running attack and what do you expect the New England game plane to be against Denver's defense?
Scott: Taylor looks like he may be done for the year. A bad sign for a New England team that managed to have a 100-yard rusher just once this year. That rusher was Taylor. Laurence Maroney has struggled mightily with his ability to produce positive yardage. Sammy Morris turned in a solid (albeit limited) outing against the Ravens and could easily move back to the role of feature back for the Patriots.
I think you're going to see more of the Patriots pass attack against the Broncos. If New England can use Kevin Faulk and Laurence Maroney out of the draw or in the spread formation, that's their strength. Without Taylor to grind out the tough yards inside and off tackle, Morris will get that call. Don't forget, second year running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has yet to get the call in the backfield. He's been inactive for three weeks and only played on special teams in the game he was active for. Green-Ellis' best game came during his rookie season when the patriots played the Bills in Nov. He ran 26 times for 105 yards (4.0 avg.) and a TD, so he's proven he can be the feature back if needed.
3) Give me the general consensus on the Patriots through the first four games of the 2009 NFL season?
Scott: New England was odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl headed into this season. People (aka bettors and analysts) thought that the offense would pick up right where it left off in 2007 when it was the most prolific unit in league history. So Far that hasn't happened.
New England struggled with the New York Jets in Week 2. And because of their struggles on offense many prognosticators have downgraded New England in their power rankings, pointing out all the faults of the team. What they haven't figured out is that New England is a more complete team this year. They may not be putting up gaudy numbers, but the team's defense is better, the new faces have proven they can play equally well as the ones who were in their shoes here last year, and the team is growing more familiar. For once, the team's rookies are having an impact, something that has been a rarity of late.
I think the team being 3-1 at this point is about where most people thought they'd be, with the exception being the loss to the Jets and the win over the Ravens.
4) Obviously the biggest hype this Sunday will involve the Belichick – McDaniels connection. From what you've seen so far this season do you think McD's got what it takes to out-plan the master?
Scott: I always thought McDaniels had a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, He has a football background and really understands the game. His play-calling may not have been genius during his entire tenure, and he's shown some liability when he needs to change the offense mid-game, but overall he's as solid as you'd want on that side of the ball. On defense, I really like what Mike Nolan has done for Denver. There's no soft play up the middle and the team has genuine play makers.
The problem with outplanning Belichick, is he knows what McDaniels does on offense. I think Belichick will have his guys ready. Quite honestly, I think it comes down to the Broncos defense's ability to slow down / stop Tom Brady. If that doesn't happen, I think New England outscores the Broncos regardless of how well McDaniels maps out an offensive game plan.
5) What's the status of Wes Walker and if he's able to play, how big a role do you think he'll make in the lineup?
Scott: Welker played last week and was a big part of the Patriots' ability to move the chains on third down. When he's not in there, rookie Julian Edelman has filled in for him on offense. Edelman, ironically, has looked very Welker-like when he's in the game, catching bubble screens, running slants and come-backs. I think the two of them will work the defense in a variety of fashions allowing Welker to get more open over the middle. Sam Aiken was the other WR active last week and he was open downfield. If Aiken can get on the same page as Brady, you'll see him play more of the Jabar Gaffney role here as the team's No. 3 or 4 route option. All of those scenarios point to Welker getting more touches over the chain-marker, exactly where they need him. It also opens things up for Randy Moss, who I'm sure the Broncos will be watching closely.
6) The Patriots seem to using a stronger blitz package this season, do you expect this to continue on Sunday and what are the plans for trying to contain Brandon Marshall?
Scott: The game plan is unknown at this point, because the team keeps changing it for each opponent. I was surprise how vanilla they played Mark Sanchez at times in the Jets game. They're slowly dialing up the blitz pressure as the new faces get used to being on the field. The concern is to not let the Broncos best players beat them> that means stopping the run (I understand Buckhalter is out), and containing Marshall. The Patriots have faced some very good WRs in the past and I thin their efforts will be a lot of zone with safety help over the top on Marshall's side of the field. McDaniels knows this and will try to create more opportunities for Marshall by going to other targets to pull the double coverage away. It will be an interesting battle to watch.
One more thing about New England's defense is the new faces. Derrick Burgess, Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Terdell Sands, Leigh Bodden, Shawn Springs and Darius Butler are all new faces in 2009. Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Junior Seau are no longer on the field. Even Jerod Mayo has been missing, so there's a lot of adjustments still to make before everyone is comfortable in their roles.
7) The Patriots offensive line has only given up four sacks the entire year, but are facing a Broncos defense that is second in the league with 15 sacks and 6 interceptions. What's the best way to protect Brady from Dumervil's rush and do you really think he'll challenge Champ Bailey in the secondary?
Scott: I think the Ravens and the Jets games showed that New England is ready for the blitz. Tom Brady is one of the best in the league in identifying the pressure and getting rid of the ball before he gets taken down. With that said, I'm sure Mike Nolan will have new ideas of how to get to Brady. McDaniels knows Brady's weaknesses and the two of them will have to cook up something special, much lie what the Giants were able to do in the Super Bowl two years ago.
The key to the blitz working is having the corners on the same page, limiting the quick dump-off, which is exactly why the Patriots were able to thwart much of the pressure from the Ravens last week. Wes Welker is Brady's crutch, and he's going to find ways to beat the blitz if the man covering him gives him any space. I think Dumervil is benefiting from some of the work the guys up front are doing, and that's a real plus for Denver. It will be on the Patriots RB's to counter Dumervil's blitzes. If I'm not mistaken, almost half of Denver's sacks came against two of the worst teams in the NFL (Cleveland, Oakland).
8) It looks like Junior Seau is ready to give up his reality show and sign on for another year – any chance he'll see some time this week and do you really think he can make an impact this late into his career?
Scott: Seau's been put off till next week because we're told that he wouldn't have been activated for Sunday's game in Denver. The real question is how will he fit in New England? I do think the Patriots will use Seau to ease Jerod Mayo back into the lineup, and to spell Gary Guyton at times. Seau is in amazing physical shape and the first time I saw him up close made me realize that the guy is in unbelievable condition. He makes the young guys look soft.
I still think Seau can have the kind of impact in terms of communication that the team needs on defense. Short yardage situations, Seau can sniff out where the play is going better than a lot of backers in the league. He may not have gaudy stats, but he was able to disrupt the point of attack in a lot of plays even when he didn't make the tackle. If he can repeat even last year's performance, I think he'll be a big help to this team.
9) The NFL is making a huge deal about this being the AFL's Legacy Game, with the Broncos resorting back to the ugliest uniforms in history and the Patriots returning to their Boston heritage in all the programs and scoreboard references. Respectful remembrance of the past or just another gimmick from the world's biggest sports conglomerate?
Scott: Good question. Seeing the power of the NFL marketing machine in action is always an impressive sight. I'd like to think that the league is doing this to recognize the AFL league. I personally don't care for many of the throwback uniforms, but seeing Pat the Patriot back in New England has a lot of fans jazzed -- myself included. I can do without the Red uniforms though. It will be nice to recognize former AFL players on Sunday. Even with the ugly uniforms and the obvious connection to maximizing the profit at NFL Properties through increased sales notwithstanding, I believe the league is doing it for the right reasons.
10) In the battle of old school vs. new school, who holds the advantage – McDaniels or Belichick and who stands to loose more from a loss at this stage of the season?
Scott: I think the Patriots are in a better position of strength, even with the new faces on their team. The concepts in New England have been in place for years and the players -- for the most part -- know their roles like the backs of their hands. I think McDaniels is still trying to get his crew in sync from top to bottom and has done a remarkable job getting there so far. But the real test won't come from the big play (Bombs to Moss or Marshall, a turnover here or there...) they will come on a third and 3 when the more experienced team finds a way to shut down the route or stop the run to force a punt.
One thing I try to look for is when the game changes, and it's often in those small, but unspectacular moments. Fall behind by 7 and the next drive for that team gets is more important. When they can't convert a key third down, they punt and if the opponent scores it changes the whole dynamic of the game. Sometimes those things come on first or second down. I just think that Belichick will be able to get the message to all of his players faster/better than McDaniels at this time. Maybe later tin the season that changes, but for now, I really think that advantage lies with Belichick.
KEYS TO THE GAME
What are the three keys for the Broncos to defeat the Patriots?
If New England is to win, they'll need to find a way to establish the run to control the clock. one of the things Denver does well is to apply pressure and force teams into mistakes. Taking a sack, or throwing an interception would be a bad move.
The Patriots also have to find a way to get off the field on third down. Last week against the Ravens they struggled stopping the Ravens late in the game because when they have Baltimore in a tough spot they allowed mid-range completions, the type of throws Kyle Orton can make. A strong Denver ground game will make it much tougher to accomplish this task.
Take the crowd out of the game. The Jets showed what a hostile crowd making a lot of noise can do to disrupt the Patriots offense. False Start penalties were an issue for New England and holding was another concern as the team had to move into a silent count situation. A loud crowd will help the Denver players as well, giving them endurance and surges of adrenaline when the Patriots are tiring and dealing with the altitude adjustment.
I've taken the Patriots in a weekly radio show Pickem and I don't see a reason to change. I think if New England can avoid a big (read Champ Bailey sized) mistake, then they should be able to take care of the other battles on both sides of the ball. Patriots 24-20 in a close one.
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